By Claire Withycombe

The Bulletin

On the morning of Nov. 13, as heavy snow descended, the southern part of a nondescript industrial building off U.S. Highway 97 in Redmond collapsed.

One of three lessees of the building now plans to file a lawsuit against the landlord, Scott Morgan, for damages, alleging the unsafe conditions of the building violate his lease.

Travis Anderson, the owner of cabinetmaker TBA Construction, rents the northernmost third of the building. He said he’ll seek damages for the cost of moving out and renting a new space.

The 6,000-square-foot southern portion of the one-story commercial structure, owned by Sisters Avenue LLC, collapsed without anyone inside. Power lines were damaged, and gas leaked from the building. The fire sprinkler system line ruptured, and water flowed from the pipes. Firefighters were able to shut the sprinkler system down.

On Monday, the building was still in a state of disrepair, with sections of the roof and walls and swaths of insulation material out in the open.

An inspector from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid a visit to the building Dec. 18, according to Mark Peterson, acting spokesman for Oregon OSHA. The OSHA inspector found the structure unsafe to work in, assigning it a so-called red tag.

Gary Lampella, a building official for the city of Redmond, said he replaced OSHA’s red tags with the city’s Monday .

Anderson has large, burdensome equipment, such as a $36,000 saw that requires the help of several people to move. But now that the building has been red-tagged, he said, none of his employees can help him with that task or others needed to vacate the building.

The two other lessees who occupied the building, a ski and pallet manufacturer, respectively, declined to comment. The pallet manufacturer’s workspace was destroyed, and all three businesses are moving to new quarters, according to Anderson.

Anderson alleges Morgan reroofed the original tin roof with material so heavy that the building could not withstand the weight of the snow.

Anderson’s lawyer, Edward Fitch, said Monday his client intended to claim Morgan violated the terms of Anderson’s two-year lease because the space was unsafe for work.

“We will be filing suit against landlord for the damages ... because of the inability to work in the leased premises,” Fitch said Monday. He plans to file a civil suit in Deschutes County Circuit Court in the coming weeks.

Morgan disagreed, asserting reroofing is a routine procedure and that a different issue caused the collapse. He alleges a structural engineer serving Liberty Mutual, Morgan’s insurance company, identified the cause of the collapse as a more significant structural problem.

The engineer, Conrad Slabbert, said Monday he could not absolutely identify the cause of the collapse and that his report was not complete.

Morgan said Anderson does not have renters’ insurance to cover the costs of moving to a new location. However, Morgan also said that while he requires renters in his building to have insurance, he did not ask Anderson for proof of insurance.

“I own a lot of real estate, and I’ve never had a problem,” Morgan said, adding, “so I guess if I’m negligent, I’m negligent from being too nice a landlord.”

However, Anderson said he had renters’ insurance that covered the cost of any damage he might do to Morgan’s property, and in so doing adhered to the terms of his lease. He could not afford insurance to cover damage caused by random weather events or other accidents.

Morgan’s attorney, Jason Conger, said damage caused by natural disaster, which is typically covered by renters’ insurance, likely wouldn’t be the responsibility of the landlord according to the terms of the lease.

“If it’s a small or isolated kind of damage then there are customary ways to deal with it, and yes, the landlord has to get in and fix it,” said Conger. “When a significant portion of the building collapses, that’s different. ... Without knowing ultimately whether or not any of the building can be salvaged, you can’t go in and start repairing it.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0376, cwithycombe@bendbulletin.com

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